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After selling the 12-store chain he founded in 1973, Kevin Noon still believes in the viability of the convenience store industry and the ability of the little guy to succeed in today's competitive market. But an uncomfortable relationship with a business partner — a petroleum distributor he courted in the early 1980s as a way to add gasoline to his stores — led to the sale of K&K Food Stores to Reid Petroleum Corp. of Lockport, N.Y. in the summer of 1999.
"My business partner and I didn't see eye to eye on the future of the chain," recalled Noon, now 59 and still consulting with Reid Petroleum, specifically working on the stores' foodservice program. "He saw the upstate New York competitive environment, with its Native America tobacco stores, mergers of big companies, and other issues very negatively. He thought the c-store industry was no longer a good business to be in and wanted out of the business. I remained positive about the c-store business — and I still do. I love this industry."
With his two daughters preferring to be working moms over convenience store business owners — a choice Noon heartily supports — and after suffering from a near-fatal staph infection, the c-store operator agreed to sell to his business partner, who then sold to Reid Petroleum.
"The irony is, I still see the potential for a one- or two-store operator in this business. They just have to hang in there. There is no room in this business for distractions anymore. You need to find every tool out there to know your customers and satisfy them. You need to treat your employees and give them incentive so that they care about the business. It's not easy, but if a person really has the passion, and owns everything, including the real estate, you can do it. There is room for the one- and two-store operator, especially in rural areas."
Watching his granddaughter and her peers doing gymnastics, Noon said, "I realized what dedication athletes have — it's phenomenal. It's the same as in the c-store business. If you want to be successful and are passionate enough, it is possible. Stay up on food classes, do extra reading, and keep up on customer service. If you think you are going to walk into your store and say, 'Hey, I'm going to be an instance success,' — those days are gone. They were gone 15 years ago."
Noon told Convenience Store News that if he was 40 or 45 years of age, "I'd be back in the business tomorrow." Now 59, Noon was founder of the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS) and its tradeshow chairman for more than 20 years.
He hopes to continue his work with NYACS and supplement his consulting duties with a new nursery business. He is growing nearly 5,000 hibiscuses, hydrangeas and other perennials on five acres near the site of the first store he and wife Kathy opened in Kendall, N.Y.
"I was the first person to bring freshly prepared food into c-stores in our area, and I believe I can bring the nursery business into the convenience store," Noon said. "I've believe in 'see, touch, smell.' Chocolate, food and flowers have a lot in common."
Noon has purchased a 1928 Model A Ford truck and will refurbish it. He said he would like to merchandise the flowers and plants near the gas pumps at the store.
"[Inspirational author] Wayne Dyer says you should never share your dreams with anyone, because they will shoot you down. But I'm still dreaming and think I can bring something back into the c-store business."